Real leaders, the kind we want to follow and emulate, are rare in today’s global, hyper-competitive and financially driven-world.
Often in their place are fast-track wannabes and impostors focused on unsustainable, short-term results. Instead of mentoring employees and looking for long-term solutions to lasting profitability, they seek to drive performance by bullying and focusing on personal glory over the success of the entire organization.
For most of my career, I have typically reported to the president, CEO, or chairman of the board. As a result, I’ve been fortunate enough to see chief executives in action in many different industries and organizations. Along the way, I have observed what the best leaders do and learned a few lessons about what never to do.
Enlightened leaders limit poor behavior by recognizing that problems will occur, communicating clearly about consequences, and staying true to their principles and commitments.
The following is a mosaic of what you can do to emulate how real leaders handle complex problems:
Work alongside your team. Your actions promote collaboration and cooperation, allow you to see how your team interacts, and provide you with a great opportunity to be a mentor and coach.
Cross-training allows everyone to be ready to pitch in when needed. It provides people with the opportunity to lean a new skill and can be a lifesaver in an emergency.
After completing a project successfully, recognize everyone (and I do mean everyone) who contributed.
Don’t be afraid of hiring someone because you feel they might outshine you–their accomplishments will reflect well on you.
Be available to your team when they need you. You may be inconvenienced at times, but respect is reciprocal, and your accessibility demonstrates their importance to the organization.
Establish and promote an environment where everyone feels safe, valued, and empowered to contribute–keep an open mind and listen. Identify input that is actionable, act on it, and always give credit where it is due.
Don’t overlook base hits by only focusing on home runs. Singles and doubles can add up over the long term and build energy, momentum, and trust along the way.
Don’t blame others for your own mistakes. One of the surest ways to demoralize your team is to blame them for something that isn’t their fault. Own up to your mistakes, focus on lessons learned, and then move on.
The very best leaders check their egos at the door, are humble, and support their teams, especially during difficult economic times.
It may seem passé in an era of texting and digital shorthand, but being an effective communicator means being able to write clearly, succinctly, and thoughtfully. You will enhance your organization’s reputation–as well as your own.
Develop your own philosophy of leadership–have a clearly defined system of beliefs and practices and use them regularly, but not rigidly. Convey your philosophy consistently to your team. Expand your philosophy as you gain more experience and more knowledge but resist fads and quick fixes in favor of long-term solutions.
Like baseball, leadership encompasses many innings and requires a strong team. Spend more time developing your team, teaching them regularly in a formal leadership development program where you as the leader play an active roll, and share some of your successes and some of your failures as well.
Most of us would probably agree that a leader–whether of a large corporation, a small business, a hospital, college, or military unit–has an inherent strategic bent and a knack for important details. But real leaders go the extra innings, as demonstrated by how they address problems, whether those problems rest with a peer, a subordinate or someone else.
—Ritch K. Eich, Ph.D, is president of Eich Associated, a leadership and management consulting firm. He has authored Real Leaders Don’t Boss (Career Press, 2012) and Leadership Requires Extra Innings (with Second City Publishing Services, 2013). Eich is a retired Captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve.